edited by Colleen Cutschall
Who are you going to call when a four-foot fish turns up on your riverbank after being buried for 80 million years in sediment? Kevin Conlin's phone rings. He sets aside a large vase he is tooling. The caller is likely to be the Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature wanting him to recover these ancient bones intact as he did along the Keld Drain in 2001. Or perhaps it is the National Museum of Natural History in Ottawa arranging for a fossil guided tour of the Manitoba escarpment. The real caller for Conlin is the hidden histories in bone beneath the layers of shale and sedimentary strata. Fossil hunting has been a passion for him since childhood. He began training as a ceramist in northern Arizona and graduated with a BFA from the University of Regina, 1987. Since that time, Conlin has been merging clay and imagery from fossil life.
Kevin Conlin makes his home and studio in Wawanesa, Manitoba. Since 1997, he has been an instructor and the inspiring force of the ceramic studio at the Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba (AGSM) in Brandon, where he is currently employed as the Art School Director. Conlin is also adjunct professor in Visual Art at Brandon University and he will be offering ceramic courses for the first time in the university's history. Part of this set will include Introduction to Clay during the Spring and Fall of 2002 and Ceramics II in the Winter of 2003 at the AGSM ceramic studio. The fact that the courses are fully enrolled already indicates a strong grass roots interest in ceramics in the southwestern region of Manitoba.
Conlin owns and operates Cypress Studios to distribute his commercial wares and a broad range of functional ceramics. But it is his artistic large wares that set Conlin ceramics in a terrain all his own. Conlin's signature style incorporates the patterns found at the waters edge and in geological strata. These wheel-thrown vessels, variable in size and form, concentrate on transforming timeless movements of water and erosion through clay, glaze and fire. The rhythm of the water's ripples and the wet, slate-coloured mud and sand, glisten through the rich application of glazes. The melding of clay, pattern, color, and form create a deeply satisfying harmony, a oneness with nature and time.
Much more visceral are Conlin's tall, hand-built and wheel-thrown urns. Numerous techniques are employed in their construction, with the result that these urns may take two months or longer to complete. The scale of the urns, up to three feet in height, may be a single encrusted phallic shape, a bullet shape or one that is double- bodied. The extensive surfaces are molded, carved, shaped, layered, combed and stenciled. The apparent thickness of the clay is accented by deep impressions of early life forms that are embedded on the urns. Ammonites swirl around the surface. Trilobites are tantalizingly alive as they swarm over smooth curves or appear as the primary image of the textural element in a tile mural.
While Conlin's wares retain their functionality, they transport the beholder to another era, before nature was restrained by human exploitation. The unexpected and delightful discovery of fossil impressions inside bowls or vases connects us to the excitement of the actual discoveries of these now extinct creatures. While imprinting four-foot fish on a ceramic fish tray is a bit of a challenge, Conlin shares with us many of his actual, smaller scale, fossil finds. Our imaginations are stirred by his combining many visual effects such as rock, shale, sediment, sand and water patterns along with partially or fully intact fossil imprints.
Kevin Conlin ceramics have pushed beyond the functional form to present deeply sensual, tactile forms and surfaces that are visually arresting. He engages us with our deep past, a time that belonged to the great beings that ruled the earth. His ceramics transcribe the on-going evolution of the earth and the forces of nature. His voluptuous, thrown, spherical vases are suggestive of the earth mother who gives life and receives it again at the end of our days. Conlin's dinomite ceramics are an exquisite homage to early life on earth.
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Ecclectica Arts Editor
Kevin Conlin Gallery